Healing potential of individual “I”

Anthroposophic psychotherapeutic work with people with anxiety

Tatiana Pavlova

Last update: 05.09.2022


An anxiety is a type of fear and an ordinary phenomenon of modern life, which is so quick and changeable that it’s not so easy to react immediately in a proper way on those changes and challenges it brings us. So, one can say that anxiety is an understandable aspect of life experience when something unexpected comes. But a lot of people feel it even in quite calm and comfortable situations. So we need not look for the reasons for anxiety in the outer world only but investigate the inner world of person. Quite often psychotherapists and physicians consider an anxiety is the result of pathological process (which isn’t yet available as physiological disorder) or as the feature of the nervous system of anxious patient. But in this case therapy must come through body influences. Even so medicines or/and different kinds of physiotherapy are not enough. Moreover, in many cases after taking pills and injections the anxiety becomes even more deep and strong. All this directs us to pay attention to the innermost part of human being – individual “I”.

Two types of anxiety

A modern person needs to experience himself like an individual “I” almost in any moment of adult conscious life. But for many people “I” is just a concept, an image, which needs to be formed and verified in relation to the outer world.  There are two types of anxiety.
In the first type of anxious patient much of the evidence that “I am “I”” is placed in the outer world. And they cannot be sure that they have the proof they need and such people live with the feeling of anxiety almost all the time. One could say that they have lost their “I”-experience in space.
The second type of anxious patient feels anxiety when they investigate the future. They manage their life in the present but they are not sure they will be able to do this any further maybe even tomorrow. They cannot maintain certainty in their being as their feeling is lost in time.
So, both types of patient need to find inner experience of their individual “I”. How can the anthroposophic psychotherapist help in this case?  

The I

Spiritual science says that nowadays the human “I” is the essential core of a person’s consciousness and self-consciousness, the carrier of individual features and abilities and our real spiritual being who can set the life goals and create the possibilities to their realizations. So, the human “I” is experienceable reality and the human being as an “I”-being basically has this experience and psychotherapists needs to find the way to help the anxious patient to clarify it.

Working with the two types of anxiety

Working with the first type of anxious patient we need to start with the content of their consciousness; that is to say help them to connect their thoughts and apprehensions with their real experiences such as sensual ones, knowledge verified in practice life and real events of their own life. They need to find the sources of their thoughts and convictions – so to say, to recognize themselves in the space of the outer world and social environment – and in the process of doing this, patients will get a real experience of their “I” which creates the content of their consciousness and verify and change it to connect this content with experienceable reality. So, patients form a new “I”-concept and although they need to verify it in connection with outer world – this is necessary condition for their development. It is the basis of their “I”-consciousness and gives them the first level of “I”-confidence which enables them to experience themselves as the owners and creators of their inner world.

The second step in working with these patients (and the first one with those of second type who feel anxiety concerning the future) is based on experiencing the “I” as the carrier of individual abilities and capacities. In this work we don’t deal with the past but stay in the present and investigate the future to enable the patient to experience themselves consciously in the stream of time. Normally people do this by recognizing their capacities. These are largely determined by a person’s occupation and place in life. But we go beyond this and concentrate on how they use their capacities in actual life conditions. If this is achieved individual “I” isn’t a kind of image or concept more. This is now real power and the basis of soul life.

The third step in the work with these patients (and the second one with those of second type whose anxiety relates to quite distant future) is in the realm of life goals and ideals. In adolescence, when the individual ‘I’ is in the process of becoming, high ideals appear in the souls of most people. They are experienced like a kind of spiritual light which brings enthusiasm or pain but, in both cases, they express the creative potential of the “I”. Working with youth ideals we can direct their light into the future and when they become adults they have more opportunities to realize them. Personal ideals are not just empty words or dreams, they relate to individual capabilities and contain real creative power. Nevertheless, quite a lot of adults – and often anxious patients – can’t recall in memory their youth ideals. In this case we can ask them to grasp what kinds of life phenomena they consider as horrible and nasty - those which must not be in human life. Such things can be defined only in the light of ideals. Then a person can create new goals for their future life and these goals need to be based on ideals and must lead to stopping or minimizing horrible phenomena. When a person has defined such a goal or goals, he experiences himself as active individual power creating his own life in coming future and he doesn’t feel the anxiety anymore.

Addressing to the essence of anxiety phenomenon one can recognize that this is a kind of feeling experiencing at the boundary of consciousness. Therefore, to overcome anxiety it is necessary to expand the boundaries of consciousness. And person can do this being grounded in his individual “I”.

Fig.: The three stages of work, boundary of consciousness and content of work

Thus, overcoming anxiety needs to be based on recognizing and actualizating the individual “I” potential of the anxious patient. This work can be done independently of the social and financial situation of the patient. If the anxiety is only an outward manifestation of a deeper problem, we need to work with the last one in accordance with its nature. 

Recommended literature

Dekkers A. A Psychology of Human Dignity. New York: SteinerBooks; 2015.

Hamre HJ, Witt CM, Kienle GS, Glockmann A, Ziegler R, Willich SN, Kiene H. Anthroposophic Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: A Two-year Prospective Cohort Study in Routine Outpatient Settings. Clinical Medicine Insights: Psychiatry, January 2009. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4137/CMPsy.S2791.

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